The Conquest of Happiness by Bertrand Russell (Part 1)

‘I think I could turn and live with animals, they are so placid and self-contained. I stand and look at them long and long. They do not sweat and whine about their condition. They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins. They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God. Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania of owning things. Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago. Not one is respectable or unhappy over the whole Earth.’ Walt Whitman

Preface. This book does not contain deep philosophy, but only remarks which are common sense. These are practical steps which has been proven to increase my happiness. By employing the methods suggested, one could be happy.

Part 1: Causes of Unhappiness

What Makes People Unhappy? Unlike animals, the general lot of humans aren’t happy. Look around you and observe the mood on people’s faces. You will see that unhappiness is all around you. For the working crowd, you will see anxiety, intense concentration etc. You will see people rushing by cars to work, ignoring the scenery. It seems like enjoying the scenery is illegal. Alcohol liberates the sense of sin, which reason suppresses in saner moments. All the unhappiness tends to stem from a social system. The avoidance of war is definitely important, but it won’t be covered here. What is the use of making everyone rich if the rich themselves are miserable? What can a man do to achieve happiness? I will suggest a cure for day to day unhappiness (mistaken views of the world, mistaken ethics, and mistaken habits of life). As a child, I was not born happy. The same could be said of my teenage years. However, I enjoy life now. It is largely due to a diminishing preoccupation with myself. Instead on focusing on my weaknesses and wading in self-pity, I focused on external topics that I had interest in. A man who is conscious of his sins will be in constant disapproval of himself. When he sins, he feels like the act has degraded him. The next is narcissism. It is about admiring oneself and wishing to be admired. It is only bad when it is overdone, example, when a woman feels like every man should love her. This is not love, she just wants to prove her point. Humans are never completely self-centred and hence you will never truly be happy if you are. . The megalomaniac seems to be powerful and also to be feared, rather than loved. Greed is all encompassing, but it doesn’t lead to fulfillment. The worst case is for a man to seek no form of satisfaction, but only distraction and oblivion like from intoxication.

It is held that drink and petting are the gateways to joy, so people get drunk quickly, and try not to notice how much their partners disgust them. – Betrand Russell

And every external interest inspires some activity which, so long as the interest remains alive, is a complete preventive of ennui. – Betrand Russell

External discipline is the only road to happiness for those unfortunates whose self-absorption is too profound to be cured in any other way. – Betrand Russell

The tragedy of one successful politician after another is the gradual substitution of narcissism for an interest in the community and the measures for which lib stands. – Betrand Russell

The typical unhappy man is one who, having been deprived in youth of some normal satisfaction, has come to value this one kind of satisfaction more than any other, and has therefore given to his life a one-sided direction. – Betrand Russell

Drunkenness, for example, is temporary suicide; the happiness that it brings is merely negative, a momentary cessation of unhappiness. – Betrand Russell

Byronic Unhappiness. There is no superior rationality in being unhappy. This could be because you feel you have fully understood the world and that nothing surprises you anymore. There is a difference between a mood and an intellectual expression. If life is too easy, it may rob you of happiness. Sometimes, humans forget that to be without some of the things you want is an indispensable part of happiness. It seems like things are not improving or at least there is no permanent achievement. However, mankind has invented a lot of new things since the ancient times. Some people view travel as unpleasant. It is the destination that is enjoyable, even though one has to return home after that. Mr Krutch feels that science has not done its job, has not fulfilled its promises. When people are poor, there tends to be a lot of pessimists around. I am highly critical of Mr Krutch. Often, people who are skeptical of love are not in harmony with their environment. The type of love I believe in is certainly not the type in the Victorian era, where evil is forgotten. Modern couples could have a more open outlook towards sex, unlike those in the Victorian era. Love is to be valued and this is a source of delight. Love is a source of delight, its absence is a source of pain. It is about to enhance all the best pleasures. Love is able to break down someone’s strong ego. There are only a handful of very successful solitary philosophers. I believe man work better when they co-operate. Those who are unable to find love may become skeptical. Literary men have not experienced the fullness of life, which includes the vicissitudes of life. If your life is boring, take on an interesting vocation.

Ours is a lost cause and there is no place for us in the natural Universe, but we are not, for all that, sorry to be human. We should rather die as men than live as animals. – Joseph Krutch

Man is perpetually toiling, and matter is perpetually in motion, yet nothing abides, although the new thing that comes after it is in no way different from what has gone before. – Joseph Krutch

If I lived forever, the joys of life would inevitably in the end lose their savour. – Betrand Russell

True love is a durable fire, In the mind ever burning, Never sick, never dead, never cold, From itself never turning. – Betrand Russell

To write tragedy, a man must feel tragedy. To feel tragedy, a man must be aware of the world in which he lives, not only with his mind, but with his blood and sinews. – Betrand Russell

Competition. The struggle for life does not affect the enjoyment of existence. It does happen from time to time. Modern problems are not as major as those compared to putting food on the table. This struggle for life is actually a struggle for success. Humans are creatures of comparison. It is like walking on a treadmill. It is normal for a man to want more, at the expense of contributing back to society. If you work too hard, you might neglect your family. Gradually, he is too absorbed in his work and can largely think about it only. If such a businessman wants to be happier, he needs to change his religion. If he continues to be obsessed with success, he will focus too hard and be too anxious. Some Americans are too risk seeking and want quick but risky returns. However, they have a chance to lose all their savings as a result of awry investments. Many people are concerned with their social standing in society. The more money you make, the smarter it seems that you are. Success makes it easier for people to enjoy life, but to what extent should you pursue it? Money, to a certain extent, is capable of increasing happiness. Excellence is also respected, in addition to success. Unlike in Europe, Americans are driven to make more money. The idea is that education is useful because it can help me make money in future. A successful businessman does not know what to do with leisure time. Is success the purpose of life? In modern day, men and women appear incapable of enjoying intellectual conversations. The knowledge of literature is confined within a few professors. What use can knowledge be if it doesn’t help me to make money? The problem is that many view life as a competition. Competition should not be considered the main thing in life. Leisure is also poisoned as a result of competition. The cure is to find a better balance in life.

Everybody knows that a business man who has been ruined is better off so far as material comforts are concerned than a man who has never been rich enough to have the chance of being ruined. – Betrand Russell

What I do maintain is that success can only be one ingredient in happiness, and is too dearly purchased if all the other ingredients have been sacrificed to obtain it. – Betrand Russell

As for the learned professions, no outsider can tell whether a doctor really knows much medicine, or whether a lawyer really knows much law, and it is therefore easier to judge of their merit by the income to be inferred from their standard of life. – Betrand Russell

Unless a man has been taught what to do with success after getting it, the achievement of it must inevitably leave him a prey to boredom. – Betrand Russell

Boredom and Excitement. Boredom has not received a lot of attention. However, it is a great motive power. It seems like a distinctively human emotion. I do not think animals can get bored. Running away from enemies is definitely not boring. One of the essentials is that one’s faculties must not be fully occupied. When you are bored, you crave for something interesting, which may not be a happy event. Humans have this deep desire for excitement. Chasing animals was exciting in the past, but most of us do not hunt in the modern day. Although with shorter working hours and with better technology, we should be less bored. However, we are ever more afraid of boredom. Those who are richer seem to seek more excitement and want it to be more intense. Even if you don’t work a routine job and have a lot of free time, boredom might set in. To me, some element of boredom is essential for life. Many of the sins have been formed because of boredom. However, boredom is not wholly evil. If your life is too exciting, you will crave for even greater events that can bring you that level of excitement. Therefore, there is no need to push to the extremes of excitement. Too much excitement will leave you tired. Every human life has its boring stretches and boring portions. All the best novels contain boring passages. Parents should teach their children that life is more or less monotonous. Too much stimulation when young might not be a good idea. Some good things are not possible except with some monotony. If your life is too exciting, you only crave for the next interesting event and you ignore the long term. Humans should preserve contact with nature and the ebb and flow of life. The joys that nature can being are more permanent and last longer.

A life too full of excitement is an exhausting life, in which continually stronger stimuli are needed to give the thrill that has come to be thought an essential part of pleasure. – Betrand Russell

Love is an experience in which our whole being is renewed and refreshed as is that of plants by rain after drought. – Betrand Russell

A happy life must be to a great extent a quiet life, for it only in an atmosphere of quiet that true joy can live. – Betrand Russell

Fatigue. Fatigue can affect happiness. Physical fatigue due to exercise might be a good thing. However, when excessive, is not good. For example, this could refer to child labour or employer abuse. The more common fatigue people face is nervous fatigue. The world is complex and there are many stimuli. Hence, man could feel tired and feel competition with other humans. If you performing unnatural conduct at work to please your boss, it might lead to a nervous strain. The problem with success is the stress that you might have to endure because of it. Some rich people self-inflict fatigue on themselves because they take on too much in life. Worry can be prevented with a better philosophy of life and better mental discipline. People worry even though they can’t do anything to improve the situation. Happiness and efficiency can be increased by cultivating your mind. Use all the information presented to you and make the best decision. Do not revise it unless there is new information that comes about. Indecision is futile and very worrying indeed. Sometimes, the less you care, the better it is as you will feel less nervous and you might in fact perform better. One’s ego is insignificant in this world. Learn to center your thoughts on something that can transcend yourself. The fatigue to be concerned about is emotional in nature, like intellectual fatigue. Emotional fatigue interferes with your daily life. Do not over-emphasize the importance of your work. Work is important, but do not let it consume your life. It is emotional trouble that causes the breakdown. Mental discipline is the key and this means thinking of things at the right time. However, you can’t control unconscious thought. A conscious thought can be planted into your unconscious with sufficient amount of vigor and intensity. If you have learned not to fear, your fatigue of daily life diminishes. Distracting your mind from the fear is not a good idea. The better strategy is to confront it with great concentration, until it has become completely familiar. Courage is something to be respected and that we should exhibit more of. Do not overload yourself with pleasure such that it becomes fatiguing in nature. It is crucial to be in contact with the Earth.

But it is quite possible to shut out the ordinary troubles of ordinary days, except while they have to be dealt with. – Betrand Russell

Our doing are not so important as we naturally suppose; our successes and failures do not after all matter very much. Even great sorrows can be survived; troubles which seem as if they must put an end to happiness for life fade with the lapse of time until it becomes almost impossible to remember their poignancy. – Betrand Russell

When you find yourself inclined to brood on anything, no matter what, the best plan always is to think about it even more than you naturally would, until at last its morbid fascination is worn off. – Betrand Russell



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